Yoga, Religion, and Psychotherapy are Based Upon a Misunderstanding.
The words, “yoga” and “religion” have something in common: they both refer to unification or union of two things that are presumed to be un-unified in the ordinary person. But in both cases, those two things are always already in union, or “not-two”.
“Yoga” means “union” and comes from the same root as the word, “yoke”. Agricultural cultures use the yoke to unify the efforts of two beasts of burden — whether oxen, bulls, or horses. In yoga, it is the individual self (you) and the Great Self (God or Brahman or Ultimate Reality) that are to be unified (or realized to be one) through practices outlined in Eastern scriptures — and also “mind” and “body” that are to be unified. Thus, practices exist at the “physical” level (hatha yoga, kriya yoga, etc.), at the emotional level (bhakti yoga), at the “mental” level (jnana yoga, etc.), at the behavioral level (raja yoga, karma yoga), and at the subtle-energetic level (kundalini yoga and siddha yoga). I put those terms into quotes because they represent not actual, separate levels of the self, but soma-self seen and considered from different perspectives, with different phenomena (kinds of events). It’s the perspectives that are different; “level” means “a perspective and its content”.
“Religion” comes from the root words, “re-” (again) and “ligare” (to bind together). “Ligare” and ligament come from the same meaning-root (ligaments bind bones together). In religion, it is the individual self (you) and God that are to be re-united — “God and sinners reconciled”, as the Christmas carol goes — and their separation is the very definition of “sin” — “to miss the mark”.
Yogic scriptures attribute the separation of self from Ultimate Reality to “Maya” or “Samsara” — conditional reality, which the scriptures describe as “illusory”, with Ultimate Reality being the only “Real”. “Conditional reality” is everything experienced through the senses, through memory, and through self-awareness. Maya or Samsara are called “illusion”, while God or Brahman or Ultimate Reality are “the Real”.
These statements apply to the more exoteric teachings of religion and yoga.
Well, the whole thing is wrong.
Self and God (or Ultimate Reality) are always already one and the same, and mind”and”body are always already fully united (or more properly, “not-two”).
The esoteric teachings state that the self and Ultimate Reality (or God) are always already one, but that actuality must be realized (not merely mentally believed as dogma or arrived at by reasoning, but observably recognized).
However, there exists a reason why they appear to be separate from one another, and that reason is, “memory”. The “ten dollar”, Sanscrit word for memories is, “samscaras”. Memory, the carrying forward of impressions of past experience (and our reactions to them) into the present moment, is the nature of illusion called, “Maya” or “samsara”; it is a feature of existence, itself, and it is the very mechanism and meaning of the word, “karma” (which literally means, “action”).
We, in the West, readily accept the notion that some memories are accessible to us and others are buried in the subconscious or unconscious. We accept the notion that subconscious memories affect our behavior. What we may not so readily recognize is that memories are physiologically embodied and are what we regard to be ourselves.
In Western psychotherapy, the idea that manifestations of subconscious (“repressed”) memories “affect the body” are called “somatization”. Somatization always involves physiological effects — alterations of bodily functions — muscle tension, nervous arousal states, glandular and immunological changes. (A related scientific field is called, “psycho-neuro-immunology”.)
Because some memories are subconscious (or unconscious), we feel their somatic effects without recognizing the underlying memory or memories that create those effects; we feel out of control — and so we say that there exists a mind-body split. I will say more about subconscious and unconscious memories later.
There exist two faults with this understanding.
The first fault is the notion that one “affects” the “other”; that they are “two”. And there we are, in the notion of a mind-body split that can (or must), through some efforts, be unified — even though psychotherapy recognizes “somatization”.
The second fault is to fail to recognize that all of our chronic or repetitive stresses and tensions are somatization in action; psychotherapy may recognize “clinical” forms of somatization (as outlined in the DSM manual), but if its understanding were more inclusive, it would recognize that ordinary emotional distress, nervous tension, all speech, and all actions and behaviors are forms of somatization, not just clinical disease-entities.
In Western religion, we accept the notion of “sin” as “voluntary wrong action” that separates us from Divinity. Some branches of Christianity postulate “original sin” — sin that exists by virtue of being born as a human being that can ultimately only be remediated in heaven after death or upon the Judgment Day.
There exist two faults with this understanding.
The first fault is the notion that one can cease to be a sinner by accepting and vigorously reinforcing beliefs and right behaviors. The closest correction to this fault is the notion of being “saved” in Christianity — saved by grace bestowed upon oneself by a religious authority.
The second fault is to fail to recognize that sin comes from deeply entrenched memory patterns that show up involuntarily and without recognition, as our very self. “Original sin” approaches this understanding but falls short of obviousness; it fails to recognize that the body or born self is not the problem, but that the subconsciousness or unconsciousness of the memory patterns that define self is the problem. The automaticity, the automatic nature, the automatic control of the memories of self-identity (and all of our ways, which stem from those memories) — the unconscious automaticity is the problem. The unconsciousness is the problem — and the “sinning” behaviors that come from subconscious memories being secondary effects.
So, let me say it another way. There is no mind-body connection; they are two views of the same thing. There are two ways of viewing the same living process — from inside (“mind”) and from outside (“body”). From a scientific perspective, “mind” is the “field” and “body” is the “particle” — two aspects of the same thing. The two perspectives, together, constitute what we call, “soma” — your experience of yourself as a conscious, living person with the ability to direct attention and to exercise intention. Mind and body are always already “one” (named, “soma”).
The ability to direct attention and to exercise intention is the very basis of the idea of “sin” (because it presumes we have free will or even absolute control of our actions), but our self-control is limited by the unconsciousness of the controlling memories by which we remember “ourselves”, control our actions and make sense of our experiences.
This is a practical distinction that flies in the face of the New Age-y notion that “we are total controllers of our own reality and totally responsible for our experience” — which is nonsense. Personal experience shows it to be so. You should feel relieved. On the other hand, we are not relieved of responsibility; we still continue to suffer until we get a handle on (not just “right ideas about”) the cause of our experience — which doesn’t mean, “understanding” in a mental sense, but the ability to resolve and release their binding, involuntary effects. Responsibility is a practical matter, and for it to be a practical matter, we must be actually capable of perceiving and doing something practical. Otherwise, the idea of responsibility is just an abstraction.
However, that understanding, as it is, is insufficient to relieve suffering, which is the ostensible goal both of Western Religion and Eastern spiritual practices.
Our target is properly the unconscious/subconscious material that, when rendered “fine-tunable” or “adjustable” (instead of stuck or poorly adjustable to immediate conditions), becomes recognizable as our repertoire of activities, not assumed as our somehow “human nature” identities.
There is no “mind-body connection” to be restored; there is no “self-and-God” to be re-united . What there is, are all of the unconscious memories that cause compulsory thinking, compulsory feelings, behaviors that seem to be out of our control, that seem to “happen to” us, the internal conflicts and dilemmas that afflict us in the course of life — the whole mass of which constitute an illusory “opacity” that hijacks and blocks attention from intuiting the formless, un”knowable” ground of being that Western religions call Divinity and that Eastern spirituality calls “liberation”. The “split” is entire conceptual, a matter of labelling and of conventional or learned behavior, but not the actual nature of things. Divinity is being the flow of concepts and sensations that we identify as duality, or split.
The Divine cannot correctly be sought (because seeking depends upon memories that determine “what is to be sought”, and memories are precisely what hijack and trap attention); The Divine can only be revealed in the transparency of memory that occurs when unconscious (unrecognized) memory patterns become conscious (and recognizable as memories), so that they lose their binding attraction (“stickiness”) and attention can “see through them” (external perception) or “fall through them” (internal apperception) — to enjoy intuition of self-source, which is Divinity, or Brahman, BEING them — and which is not some spectacular accomplishment of mind-blowing insanity or weird perception, but merely the easy ordinaryness of the experience of our own most ordinary faculties, unfouled by unconscious memories.
As a practical matter, binding and deluding memories (which may be anything and everything) exist at different levels of the being (or ways of organizing intention/actions and attention/sensations) which we may call “physical”, “emotional”, “mental”, “higher mental”, “intuitive”, etc., according to their content. As a practical matter, my experience is that memories must be addressed on their own terms — or the terms of the level at which they appear — and that certain principles of conscious awakening and change apply to memories at all “levels”. It’s a matter of learning how to apply those principles at different levels.
In my experience, perhaps the most accessible way to learn to exercise those principles is through one form of somatic education or another, which, though it may illuminate any and all levels of the being, approaches through the perspective (or doorway) of embodiment. It’s very easy to tell whether your application of somatic principles is effective; did you feel immediately different after practice? Was the change durable? If so, then so; if not, then not.
Somatic education is a doorway — but not the entire path — simply because people commonly consider the scope of somatic education to be “matters bodily” (or physiological); it’s a fault of the mind-body “split”-concept. Actually, somatic education is a full-spectrum affair that runs from physiological concerns to the highest matters of consciousness, and throughout that spectrum, different means apply for awakening responsibility, some of which may look clinical, others psychological, and others, spiritual/evolutionary. In whatever ways the technical means may differ, the principles are identical.
There is no mind-body connection, there is no yoga, there is no true religion (“binding again”); there is just the uncovering and mastery, freely intelligent use and free release of the patterns of memory by which we define life in terms of multiplicities (of which the minimum is duality) and the logics by which interact in life, even our very own.
When the “stickiness” of memories (Tibetan: dukkha) dissolves, we are more free to relate to experience (relationship), and so the sense of separation so decried in spiritual circles as the affliction of humanity, is recognized not to pertain, and never to have pertained, and the force of it diminishes and dissolves.
So be it.